9/11 – as I remember it

It is, of course, the 10th anniversary of the horror that we soon came to call 9/11.

In the autumn of 2001, I was working as Head of Research for the Communication Workers Union and I was due to spend the second week of September as a member of the CWU delegation to the annual Trades Union Congress.  That year, the TUC was held in Brighton and I travelled there from my home in London on the Sunday for the start of the Congress on Monday.  My diary for Tuesday contains the following record:

“Towards 3 pm, I was waiting for the address by Tony Blair on the private funding of public services and speaking to a trainee called Paul Adams about running one’s web site. Then Paul told me that Bill Morris [chair of the Congress] had just announced that an aircraft had flown into the World Trade Center in New York. At 3.10 pm, the Prime Minister gravely made a short statement about the attack in the USA, abandoned his planned speech, and left for Downing Street – there was a standing ovation.

Like many others, I went to the AEEU stall to watch the BBC News 24. I learned that a second aircraft had hit the South Tower and saw incredible film of the tower collapsing. Later I saw shots of the North Tower collapsing and of the Pentagon on fire. At 3.45 pm, Congress was suspended.

The events in America are outside all our experience and, to cope with the news, Tony Young [CWU Deputy General Secretary] & I walked back to Hove and went to a cafe. In my hotel room, I watched the 6 pm BBC news and my jaw literally dropped at the awful scenes.”

I had twice visited the World Trade Center and then had (and to this day have) a picture in my study showing the New York skyline with the Twin Towers very prominent.

So, where were you on 9/11?  How did you first learn of the attacks?


  • Ronnie Landau

    I was, like most observers, utterly horrified and mesmerised by the television images of the attack on the World Trade Center 10 years ago. However, as undiminished as my sense of the misguided and barbaric nature of this indiscriminate mass murder still is, I believe the American and British response over the past decade to have been wildly – no, savagely – disproportionate.

    In terms of the numbers of Iraqi and Afghan dead, that retribution was a thousand-fold, to say nothing of the mayhem unleashed throughout the Middle East, the repercussions of which may be felt for a century or more. I hold that this vengeance, not wreaked in a passionate, heat-of-the-moment and unconsidered fashion, but coolly planned and methodically executed, was wholly indefensible and bordered on the genocidal-racist: ‘One of us is worth a thousand of them’).

    It has also proved risibly counter-productive and, in terms of its senseless brutality, a grotesque insult to the memory of those 3,000+ innocents who died in New York on that terrible day in September 2001. What happened then was not an act of war perpetrated by any one nation, by ‘the Arabs’, or by an undifferentiated global community of Islam – what it was, in fact, was a multiple homicide and it should have been treated as such.

  • troy

    I cannot believe there are such dumb stupid people such as our Ronnie above. Look at the whole record of unprovoked attacks by fanatic cowards who think they will get a woman when they die, but worse than them is people like you a ignorant fool who does not know if the terrorist or the leaders of Muslim countries people like you would be in concentration camps or killed, so wise up, and shut up, you disgust me and many more.

  • Phil Holt

    I was working from home at the time and had taken a break to watch the TUC and Blair. I watched as the events unfolded in the US and was horrified. Can’t believe that terrorists haven’t learnt the lesson that terrorism only brings sympathy to the victims of the terrorism. The US state terrorist response was exactly an ignorance of the same lesson.

    There are however a number of silver linings to all these subsequent consequences (although don’t ask the victims to agree – I wouldn’t). The first is that the great powers can no longer put boots on the ground i.e. seize oil wells and other natural resources as they did in Iraq subsequently. The march of history (as they say) is faster today and I am optimistic that despite all the deaths, terrorism from private organisations and states is becoming loathed and the people through the technology that I (and Roger) have served is informing, uniting and revolutionising the people world wide.

    In the meantime all my sympathies and feelings to the people affected by 9/11 (I was in my own way from afar- my hair still stands on end when I see those terrible images). People should not die in this way. Thinking this day of the US.

  • Phil Holt

    Hazel Chowcat has reminded us all that this day is also the day when Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Allende (1973) with the backing of the US. So we must all take it with a pinch of salt about the US commitment to democracy in the Arab world when they have tolerated Arabic dictators for so long. However, nothing detracts from all our comments above. Just in case we forget other events.

  • Nick

    I was in the office as usual on 9/11. The first I knew of the attacks was when my wife phoned me, between 2:25 and 2:30 in the afternoon (9:30am, ET), to cry out: “They’ve flown planes into the World Trade Centre.” I asked who “they” was, but of course at that point no one knew. I asked what kind of planes, and she replied, “Jumbo jets.”

    I couldn’t access the Internet because I was a contractor, so I asked my colleague to pull up the BBC News website. After about a minute only the headline had come up, probably because the site was so busy. I looked around the office and couldn’t see anyone else online or discussing the attacks.

    I stepped outside the office to call some friends on my mobile. I couldn’t get through to anyone in the States. I called an American friend who lives in England to find that she had flown back from JFK the night before, but wished she was still in New York. She was watching the news, in shock. There were rumours that as many as 10 planes might have been hijacked and still in the air. I left work early, at about 4 o’clock, because I couldn’t concentrate.

    My wife was at a meeting in London for the day. Everyone in the meeting room was watching Sky News, and the meeting broke up early. My wife was shocked that two people (out of about 20 in the room) were laughing at the pictures of the burning buildings and saying the Americans deserved it.

  • Dan Filson

    On 9 September 2001, I headed off at lunchtime from my office in Kensington High Street to attend a trustees’ finance committee meeting at Hammersmith United Charities in Sycamore Gardens, Hammersmith W6. The taxi driver mentioned a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. I didn’t really know what the WTC was, but I assumed it was a New York skyscraper; I assumed it was like the plane crashing into the Empire State Building during the Second World War. There would be casualties, sure, but disasters happen around the world. That may sound callous but news makes us more aware of the world’s tragedies.

    It was a pleasant sunny day and I thought no more of it.

    On arrival, as I passed through the care home residents’ lounge, a news bulletin was playing on their TV. I noticed seeing a plane crash in a ball of flame into the tower next to an already burning tower. It was like a horror film, somewhat, and didn’t know if this was for real or fictional. When I came out of the meeting an hour or so later I was horrified to see the residents had been subjected to repeated showings of the unfolding events, not just the burning towers, the fireball but also the people jumping not to save their lives but to escape smoke and flames, the collapsing buildings (first one, then the other), the mushroom clouds of dust billowing down streets, the view from across the Hudson of the city engulfed in smoke and dust.

    I can only hope the dementia of the residents in that lounge was such that they did not realise the events they were seeing were real life and happening that very day in New York.

    Yes, I recall where I was and what I was doing on 9/11.

    By chance a colleague of mine was holidaying in New York on that date and on the subway heading towards Battery Park through Manhattan. His train stopped short – by a couple of stations – of the WTC stop and initially was halted there for a while, then they closed the station and told passengers to exit to the surface, The world he saw on the surface was different to the one he last saw when he entered the subway. He survived but I doubt it left his mind either as to where he was on 9/11.

  • Ronnie Landau

    An eloquent response, Troy! Your naked Islamophobia and general bigotry are matched only by your illiteracy! I especially enjoyed your reference to ‘people like you’. Keep up the over-simplifying work!

  • Ellie

    I was working in a tiny dot com start up on a sunny afternoon … our shed (literally) was peaceful and the chickens were pecking around outside.

    The chap I worked with looked up as his wife came running in saying something about a plane crashing into a building … we went into the house and watched in rapt horror at the smoke billowing out and then as if in slow motion as the plane flew into the second tower … as someone said above was it real or some hideous Hollywood fiction.

    We got our other 3 staff and just sat and stared … I had to drive to Bury St Edmunds for a meeting about the Domesday Book with Greene King … all the radio stations had nothing other than the news from the USA … I got to Greene King… our meeting lasted about 1 minute before just watching the head of PR and Coms computer for BBC news.

    Dinner that night with friends was another chilling silence in front of the TV … I later called friends and family all over the US … one friend was late for work in the towers and survived, another died and many more were affected. My cousin worked on Capitol Hill and was evacuated.

    I found it hard this year to read many tweets and facebook entries talking about the end of innocence and the world being a worse place now … I believe in many ways the world to be better with increased awareness of difference and what we have in common. Obviously there are extremes on all sides but for most of humanity we continue … important to recognise that more people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq have died … innocent civilians … since 911 they are also victims… and that there is much we can do to help the innocents of natural disasters and famine as well.

    The memory of 911 is dramatic and painful but we must move on and find a way of dealing with the ongoing humanitarian traumas in the world as well as sending lights up into the sky.


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